Ukraine Boxing Hero Eyes Political Title in Kiev | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 24.03.2006
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Ukraine Boxing Hero Eyes Political Title in Kiev

Vitali Klitschko, the former WBC heavyweight champion and one of Ukraine's most popular public figures, is running for the post of mayor of Kiev in March elections.

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Klitschko wants a new career in politics after leaving the boxing arena

When Vitali Klitschko makes a campaign appearance in Kiev, it's usually autographs that the excited hordes clamor for rather than grand policy plans.

"I'm running for the post of mayor and I will be the mayor of Kiev," a confident Klitschko recently told cheering crowds.

"Young, successful people like him should lead the country," Pawel Kolomojzew, a doctor watching one of Klitschko's campaign appearances told German news agency dpa.

Vitali Klitschko gewinnt gegen Danny Williams

Vitali Klitschko is a huge celebrity in Ukraine

The 34-year-old is a towering figure in Ukrainian public life and is hugely popular among most Ukrainians.

Klitschko, who hung up his boxing gloves last November after a knee injury prevented him from holding a mandatory title defense fight against Hasim Rahman, has been courted furiously by political parties ever since.

The pull of politics

Ukraine Viktor Juschtschenko und die Klitschko Brüder

The Ukrainian presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko with the Klitschko brothers in 2004

Ukrainians first got an inkling of Klitschko's political leanings when he and brother Wladimir regularly joined demonstrators during the so-called "Orange Revolution" in 2004/2005 in Kiev and openly supported the then opposition leader and current President Viktor Yushchenko.

Last year, the boxing icon said he would also be interested in running for a parliamentary seat.

Ukraine will hold both parliamentary and regional elections on March 26. The parliamentary election will redraw the nation's political landscape after constitutional changes which entered into this year transferred to the legislature important powers currently held by the president.

Klitschko heads a list of candidates from a bloc formed by two key players in the 2004 protests -- the Pora youth movement and the Reform and Order party.

"If democratic forces unite, and I think (President) Viktor Yushchenko can accomplish this, I don't exclude the possibility of my candidacy in the Upper Rada elections," Klitschko said during a press conference last year. "I would be a candidate from a bloc of democratic forces."

No knock-out victory

Despite his immense popularity, Klitschko's victory in the mayoral election in Kiev is far from certain. Current Mayor Alexander Omelchenko, who has until now been a kind of political godfather to Klitschko, is expected to put up a serious fight.

Witali Klitschko

Vitali Klitschko is portraying a clean and honest image during the campaign

Klitschko has resorted to accusing Omelchenko of responsibility for widespread corruption and has portrayed himself as an honest and untainted contender for the post.

"Corruption in the Kiev administration has reached top levels," Klitschko said recently, adding that he wanted to transform Kiev into "the most pleasant city in Central and Eastern Europe." Last year Klitschko told a press conference: "I want to become Kiev mayor because I love my city very much and want to improve life in it."

But despite the allegations of corruption, there's no denying that the three-million strong capital has developed vastly under Omelchenko's leadership. Even during the Orange Revolution, the Kiev mayor lent his support to the demonstrators by allowing them to use administrative buildings to seek refuge from the freezing cold.

Omelchenko is also currently leading in opinions polls at 36 percent, while Klitschko's support is at 15 percent.

Sports and then politics

Klitschko isn't the first sports icon in Ukraine to turn to politics.

Two-time Olympics winner in sprinting Valeri Borzov was Ukraine's sports minister in the early 1990s, and the current national soccer coach, Oleg Blochin, has a second job in the parliament.

Boxen Lamon Brewster - Wladimir Klitschko WBO Las Vegas Technischer K.O. nach 5. Runde

Wladimir Klitschko is going to stick to what he does best

Vitali Klitschko's younger brother, Wladimir, is clear that politics isn't his thing. Instead, he's going to take on American boxer Chris Byrd for the world boxing title on April 22.

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